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It’s been a big year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. On second thought, it’s been a big six years for Lin-Manuel Miranda. The playwright behind Hamilton has become a living legend in the eyes of fans, and has popularity launch him headfirst into Hollywood with key involvement in films like Moana, In The Heights and more. When you’re writing like you’re running out of time, you’d think one stinker would enter the mix, but that time has yet to come, because his latest, Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords' new animated movie, Vivo, is also a delight.

Sony Animation and Netflix’s Vivo has become the most under-the-radar release for the musical icon due to circumstances related to the pandemic that has pushed the animated film (like many others recently including Soul, Luca and Mitchells vs. the Machines) off the big screen and straight to streaming. Despite the unfortunate lack of marketing and anticipation for the movie, developed from a story by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the 95-minute musical is worth your time for a lively and affecting time with the whole family.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music storytelling shines through this smaller scale story.

Coming off of experiencing In The Heights earlier this summer, it should be noted that Vivo is not to the scope of any other project we’ve seen Lin-Manuel Miranda place his name next to. The Sony Animated film tells a much smaller and intimate story and caters to keeping the attention of a young audience. Even so, the movie opens with a boisterous rap number sung by Miranda as he introduces himself as a singing and dancing kinkajou living in Cuba with a sweet old man named Andrés (Juan de Marcos González). Miranda’s titular Vivo collaborates with Andrés on music numbers for the ambience of the city’s central plaza.

A kinkajou is a tropical rainforest mammal also known as the “honey bear” that could easily be confused as a monkey. While it’s off putting at first to see original music played out through animation, Miranda quickly disappears into the captivating storyline of Vivo, especially since the character’s grasp on the English language is only for the viewer’s entertainment. Now, Vivo is not a full-on Miranda musical. To the tune of tamer Disney favorites like Hercules or Mulan, there’s more focus on the story than every character belting out a tune. When Miranda’s music finds its way into Vivo, it’s a load of fun, even if each tune isn’t necessarily top-tier memorable. His brand of storytelling through rap and Latin music molds well in the Sony animated film and it’s a treat to watch brightly unfold.

Vivo struggles between trying to be a touching classic and your average Sony Animated movie.

The pitfall of Vivo is it is trying to wear two coats at once. One moment you feel like you’re watching a tear jerking Pixar film comparable to Up or Soul, and the next you are taken out of the drama in favor of a lighter, more carefree Sony Animation film in the vein of Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This isn’t going to be a problem for its intended young audience, but for the adults out there, you might find yourself slipping in and out of being suspended in its reality and then waking up to its kids movie tendencies.

The tone may be uneven, but Vivo does a good enough job of giving a little something to those looking for an emotional animated musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda and providing fun laughs through its upbeat and loud-and-proud little girl character of Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), who befriends Vivo. The movie also has a memorable voice cast including Gloria Estefan, Zoe Saldana, Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer who all shine through their roles. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as a Pixar movie, but it also doesn’t steer away from delving into deep emotions such as losing a loved one.

Vivo is a fun and heartwarming family film that doesn’t surprise, but surprisingly works.

The Sony flick aims to please as it delivers a pretty paint-by-numbers storyline that you’ve definitely seen a few times too many. You’ll probably be a few steps ahead of this narrative as Vivo and Gabi team up for an epic Florida adventure, but when it hits the familiar beats, it does find a way to remain satisfying and lead its audience into a bittersweet place of comfort and sentiment.

Vivo doesn’t ask a lot of its audience, but it’s a blast to enjoy. Even in a smaller and more commercial dose of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and, yes as a honey bear, the writer and vocalist aims to soundtrack this generation’s childhood. Vivo is not a high-flying swing, but it's most definitely full of life.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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